Ric Vesely knows about the car rental industry’s double standards. When he returned his Dollar Rent a Car vehicle in Minneapolis recently, an employee asked him a strange question: Did he have a receipt for his gasoline purchase?
Vesely, an engineer who was visiting from Colorado, hadn’t bought Dollar’s pricey fuel-purchase option, agreeing instead to return the vehicle with a full tank. He said he didn’t have a receipt, but that it didn’t matter — the needle on the gas gauge pointed to “full.”
“The employee became angry with me and told me that it was buried in the fine print on the contract I had signed,” he remembers. “He then proceeded to interrogate me on where I had purchased the gasoline.”
Then Vesely did something he regretted. He told the employee he’d just filled up the tank.
“I had actually purchased gas about 15 miles away,” he says. “Now I feel like a thief.”
Maybe he shouldn’t. Because if the tables were turned, the car rental company would apply a completely different set of standards to itself.
What do I mean? Well, if a ding or dent is discovered on Vesely’s vehicle after he returned it, a car rental company would send him a bill and insist that he settle up immediately. Failure to do so could get him reported to a collection agency, damage his credit score and land him on a car rental blacklist. Sometimes, the agency doesn’t even bother sharing a picture of the alleged damage. It just sends the bill.
If a customer has the audacity to ask for evidence of the damage, the response is often: We don’t have to prove anything. The agency, or an outside company hired to process the damage claim, will just re-send the bill wrapped in an even more threatening letter.
Pay up — or else.
I’m working a case right now where there are no photos of the damage, no real proof the customer harmed the car in any way. Mike Scher, a reader from Miami, returned his Dollar rental recently and an associate gave him a “clean” return form that indicated the car was in good condition. “We were shocked to receive a very aggressive claim for over $700 in damages,” he says.
Scher sent a letter back, saying he’d returned the vehicle unharmed.
“They send more and more aggressive notices and threatened us with legal action,” he says. “It’s so unfair.”
I’ve had conversations with auto rental executives who say they don’t need to show you anything. If you were the last person to rent the vehicle, you’re on the hook for whatever damage they want to charge you or your insurance company. You just have to take them at their word.
Yet when it comes to a tank of gas, car rental agencies typically won’t take us at our word. They can demand proof that we filled up the tank. They don’t even trust their own cars to tell them the tank is full.